Free Culture belligerence takes aim at a Canadian literary legend.
It's hard to imagine a more respected and honoured analytical and literary mind in Canada than the one housed in the venerable head of Margaret Atwood. One only need look at the current and continuing economic crisis for proof of her skill at grasping and explaining complex issues. A number of years back, while the rest of the world shuffled blindly toward the economic precipice, Ms. Atwood was busy writing her brilliant Massey Lecture series, Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth in which she pretty much predicted everything that has happened since.
But it seems even Margaret Atwood can't catch a break when it comes to standing up for her rights as a professional artist reliant on copyright to protect the obvious value of her intellectual property. According to her blog at yearoftheflood.com Ms. Atwood was invited to appear before the Special Commons Committee on C-32 and graciously accepted the invitation, despite being in Dubai at the time. She arranged for a video conference link on her side of the world (where it was around 8 p.m. in the evening) and delivered a prepared statement on a witness panel that included Marian Hebb from the Artists' Legal Advice Services and four representatives from the Canadian Musical Reproduction Rights Agency.
When the time came for questions from the committee members, Ms. Atwood found herself berated, interrupted and, I would have to think, insulted by one Member of Parliament who took exception to her definition of fair dealing.
What was her definition?
"Number one, it is fair; and number two it means that some form of dealing is taking place between two sides who reach an agreement -- that's what fair dealing means to the ordinary person."
I'm not going to name the MP* who engaged so rudely with Ms. Atwood - calling her worries about loss of educational revenue for authors "outrageous" and suggesting she would have a better understanding of the issues if she would just read Michael Geist's blog. I won't name the MP because I prefer to keep the debate around this issue outside the arena of political gamesmanship. For that kind of commentary, may I suggest folks read the aforementioned Professor Geist who makes a habit of personal attacks against politicians who dare to disagree with his theories.
Last year we witnessed a shameful attack on two-time Governor General's Award winner Nino Ricci by both Geist and crusading free culture journalist Jesse Brown (who, strangely, does not work for a free culture broadcaster). Brown claimed Ricci writes lies and propaganda, and Geist happily retweeted the calumny to his followers.
This attack was then repeated by free culture copyfighter Cory Doctorow against Ricci and several other Canadian authors who dared to speak about their rights in a Writers Union video.
If those blame the artist moments were not bad enough, we now have the embarrassing spectacle of the most recognizable and respected Canadian cultural figure on the planet being treated like she knows nothing about the reality she has been living and working in for half a century now. To make matters worse, this attack took place on Parliament Hill. Truly the lowest of the low points so far in this ongoing debate.
In a related post today on her blog, Ms. Atwood responds to the MP's insistence that no-one could possibly interpret fair dealing as meaning artists no longer have to be paid for educational use:
In a government fact sheet on Bill C-32, entitled What the New Copyright Modernization Act Means for Teachers, the Government emphasizes that fair dealing for the purpose of education will be an “important” change to the Copyright Act and that “Extending this provision to education will reduce the administrative and financial costs for users of copyrighted materials that enrich the educational environment.”
“Administrative costs” means tracking the use of copied material, I can only suppose. “Financial costs” means paying for it. If the government doesn’t mean that, what in stars DOES it mean?
I would add to this by pointing out (as I have many times before) that prominent advocates for educational fair dealing have advised often in the past that a broad interpretation of such a category would absolutely result in both free use of copyright-protected material and a consequent loss of licensing revenue to creators. They chose not to repeat those claims in testimony to the committee, but their past advocacy is on the record and publicly available.
Finally, the attacking MP's source material for his own understanding of fair dealing, a blog posting by Michael Geist, has been thoroughly discredited by authoritative members of the legal profession. In fact, much of what Michael Geist has to say about copyright meets regular and authoritative rebuttal from those with an actual working knowledge of the law.
*I'm not trying to be dramatically mysterious here. I just despise the political mud-slinging that has characterized so much of the debate from the free culture side. The exchange between Atwood and the MP has been fairly widely reported.
(images of Margaret Atwood courtesy the Parliamentary website)